Word count: 1,506
“Okay, watch this one, Boston !” Johnny centered the browned flapjack on his turner, gave a small jerk of the hand and up went the cake, made one grand flip and then landed back where it had begun.
Scott politely put two hands together for a . clap. . .clap. . .clap. Then he yawned as wide as his jaws would go.
Johnny scowled, much as he would if he encountered a skunk. “Let’s see you do better!” he retaliated.
Audaciously, the blond rubbed his fingernails in a preening motion across his blue-shirted chest and then perused the griddle cakes he had prepared earlier. Rejecting one that was lop-sided, he spotted one that met his demanding standards for flipping.
Steadying it on the flipper, his hand jerked upward as the cake defied gravity, hit the top of its arc, flipped once and then again as it began its descent. Landing gracefully on the flipper, the pancake hovered for a second but didn’t fall.
Scott glanced over at this brother with a knowing smile and bowed.
Gnashing white teeth were the only sound from the sapphire-eyed man and then a growled, “You been practicin’,” he accused.
“Just how could I do that, brother? Teresa usually reigns in this kitchen. It’s only because she’s not feeling well that we were allowed in here today.”
Johnny stood there. He knew Scott’s statement was true because usually Teresa wouldn’t let either of them in the kitchen to cook because of several disasters not long after the two had come to Lancer. “Weeeelll, I still say you been practicin’.”
“Oh, of course, that’s all I have to do is practice pancake flipping,” the blond replied in an annoyed voice. “Speaking of that, we’d better eat and get going. Murdoch’s going to be in here any minute.”
“Murdoch IS here,” announced their father from the doorway of the kitchen, “and I’m hungry so why don’t you just hand over a plate of those pancakes and pour me a cup of coffee?”
Scott glanced at Johnny; Johnny glanced at Scott. “These are kinda cold,” the youngest Lancer squeaked out.
“Cold? Why would they be cold? Didn’t you keep them undercover like Teresa does?”
Both sons shook their heads and then in a small voice Scott admitted, “We were flipping them.”
The big man’s eyes bulged. “Flipping food, wasting food? How could you do that?’
Johnny twisted his lips and replied, “They’re not ruined. Just need heatin’ up. Can steam ’em or somethin’.”
“Never mind. Pour me some coffee and then come in to the other room. We need to talk!”
Scott poured a large mug of the black brew and then added two spoonfuls of sugar to carry in to the older man. Johnny followed right behind. Handing over the mug, the two men waited while Murdoch took a drink. To their dismay the scowl on his face deepened, but he did take another sip before setting the mug down.
“Alright, sit down. I think it’s time we get a few things straight. I. . .I haven’t wanted to say much because I know you were both getting used to a different way of life, but you’ve been here long enough now that we should establish some understanding about expenses on this ranch..”
“Expenses? But you’re the one who takes care of the books. Well, I guess blondie over there does help sometimes,” Johnny pointed out.
A grumble emerged from the rancher’s lips. “I know I do the books and that’s why I seem to be the only one aware of how much money goes out. I don’t begrudge the day-to-day expenses because men have to eat to be able to work, but I’m sure there is waste going on—like with those pancakes! Flour costs money!”
“The hens give us the eggs for free!”
Murdoch glared at his younger son. “They still have to be fed or they don’t lay eggs. You just have no idea what it costs to run a ranch like this!”
“Are you saying that you’re spending more since Johnny and I arrived, sir?” Scott stood up, almost at attention.
“Of course, but that’s not the point. I expect two healthy young men to eat their share and certainly you earn your wages, but you’re also owners and I’d like for you to take responsibility for seeing that this ranch is as economically efficient as we can make it!”
Johnny looked at Scott; Scott looked at Johnny. “Of course, sir. I know of one area in particular where we can save money,” the older son informed his father.
The frugal Scotsman’s face lit up. Next to Lancer, his favorite thing in the whole world was saving money. “That’s the spirit. What is it?”
“Well, as I recall you order cases of scotch from Scotland . That costs a great deal what with shipping and all. Wilbur Bates at the saloon in Spanish Wells has this great deal on barrels of whisky. We can get it for much less. I’ll bet we could save hundreds of dollars a year by buying from Bates!”
Murdoch went purple, then red, then green. “You keep your hands off my scotch, you Philistine! A hard working man deserves one good thing in life and that is pure, unadulterated scotch from the only place on earth where they know how to make that nectar. In fact, if anything I’m thinking of ordering an extra case this year!”
Two sets of blue eyes stared at the man. Then Scott in his most military manner replied, “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I just assumed you’d want to be the first to sacrifice as an example to the underlings.”
Murdoch’s head jerked around to stare at the two men, but Scott stayed on the attack.
“I guess it would be possible for Teresa to stop making any sweets or special dishes. I’m sure none of us would mind giving up angel food cake or custards. And we could easily have beef night after night after night after. . . .”
Murdoch held up a hand. “Alright, alright, I get the point, but there must be something we could get rid of that isn’t food or drink.”
Johnny stepped closer. “Wouldn’t have to belong to that stuffy bunch that calls themselves a Cattlemen’s Association. Just a bunch of fellas puffin’ out their chests tellin’ lies anyway. ‘Sides I hear it costs a bundle to belong.”
Murdoch began to seethe. “That does it! We are not a bunch of stuffy old men, telling lies. We work for the betterment of all ranchers in the valley. We have clout in Sacramento .”
“Then how come you’re always complainin’ that cattle prices are too low?” There was an innocent look on Johnny’s face.
“They are too low, but that isn’t our fault. As President of the association. . . .”
“That’s another thing, you’re always goin’ off to talk to these other fellers ’bout makin’ more money, but you’re spendin’ money at the same time. Me ‘n Scott saw that hotel bill last time you went to Sacramento . Coulda fed the whole ranch for a week!”
“You were looking at my private papers?” Murdoch was definitely red in the face now.
“No, sir. Don’t you remember that you were laid up with your back and asked me to handle the bills at that time?” Scott stared straight into his father’s eyes.
“Oh, I forgot that. Man’s entitled to give his back a rest once in awhile.”
“Of course and I don’t mind helping out. We must all sacrifice when someone in the family needs help.”
Johnny turned his head to the side so that Murdoch couldn’t see the grin on his face at Scott’s oh-so-serious comment.
“Well, I. . .I’m sure there’s something we can do to cut down on spending around here, but right now we’re wasting money talking. Let’s get to work. After that storm yesterday, there’s a great deal to be done.”
“Yes, sir,” the two younger Lancers chorused.
“Oh, by the way, which one of you plans to make dinner tonight? I’m sure Maria will be busy taking care of Teresa.”
Scott looked at Johnny; Johnny looked at Scott. “I will, Murdoch. I know just what to make,” the brunet offered.
“Good, Johnny. I’m sure it will be delicious. I’ll see you both tonight then. Don’t leave those dishes for Maria. Clean up and then get out towork on those fences.”
As soon as Murdoch was out of the room, Scott slapped his brother on the back and asked, “Why’d you tell him you were going to make dinner? I thought we’d ride into Morro Coyo and have dinner at the cantina since Teresa’s sick.”
Johnny grinned broadly. “No need to do that, brother. I plan to turn those cold flapjacks into tortillas and make chiles rellenos. I’ll show Murdoch Lancer how to save money!”
The brothers walked into the kitchen, laughing at the thought of Murdoch biting into a leftover pancake until their sides hurt.
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